Campus Wild

Cheap and Easy Guide to an Earth-friendly Diet


So you’ve decided that you want to eat less meat: Smart choice! By reducing the amount of meat you eat, you’ll help protect endangered animals and the environment every day. If you’re not sure where to start or how to stick to your new diet on a budget, the Cheap & Easy Guide to an Earth-friendly diet offers healthy, time-saving, wallet-friendly tips to help you accomplish your goal, whether you have your own kitchen or eat on campus.

10 Ways to Eat Earth-friendly on Campus

Depending on your school’s dining provider, you may have many meatless options, or you may have to be more inventive to create meals out of what is available. If your dining hall has a microwave, Panini press or stir fry station, then you have an even greater ability to create your own meatless delicacies. Throughout this guide, meals that can easily be whipped up in a dining hall are indicated with an asterisk(*).

1. Every Meal Matters:

Every meatless meal helps protect wildlife and the environment. From breakfast to dinner (and all the snacks in between), it’s easy to eat less meat and more delicious plant-based foods.

Breakfast: Oatmeal, bread (toast, bagel),* granola, dried fruit, cereal,* smoothies (add chia, hemp or flax for protein) or an acai bowl.

Lunch: Sandwiches* wraps* and pitas* (raw, toasted or Panini pressed) (see The Complete Sandwich Chart below), hearty soups (lentil, minestrone, black bean) or Ramen noodle bowls (the oriental and chili flavors of Top Ramen brand are vegan; add peanut butter and Sriracha to make “Pad Thai” Ramen).

Snacks: Dried fruit, crackers, pretzels with dip (hummus, nut butter), fresh fruit, nuts, energy bars or toast with nut butter, avocado slices or sliced tomato and hummus. Other less-healthy comfort foods can hit the spot sometimes and still be Earth-friendly.

Dinner: Oven-roasted vegetables (toss cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, etc. with olive oil and seasoning, bake in oven until soft), loaded salads* (see below), veggie/tofu stir-fry,* veggie and bean chili, pita with falafel and veggies, tacos with beans,* pasta and marinara,* veggie lasagna, sesame peanut noodles, baked pasta casseroles, vegan chorizo sausage and squash gumbo and more.

Try Meat Substitutes: If you are making a meal and you can’t picture it without the meat, try using a meat substitute instead. Boca, Quorn, Garden Burger, Tofurky and Gardein make a huge variety of plant-based “meats” including burgers, deli slices, chicken cutlets and beef tips. Several companies make delicious plant-based “mayonnaise” that’s ideal in sandwiches and salads, like Veganaise, Earth Balance and Just Mayo.

2. The Complete Sandwich Chart:

Choose one or more from each column in order to create a sandwich or wrap that’s healthy, satisfying and, best of all, meat-free.

The Complete Sandwich Chart

3. Petrified About Protein?

Some students worry that eating less meat means insufficient amounts of protein. However the average American eats almost twice the amount of protein they need. So it’s easy to meet your protein needs from nuts, beans, seeds, tofu, tempeh and pseudo-grains like quinoa. For example, 1 cup of black beans contains 42 grams of protein, which is about 91 percent of the recommended intake for the average woman who spends most of her day hitting the books. Vegetables also contain protein, like broccoli, which provides 8.1 grams of protein per cup (chopped).

4. Play Dress-up (with your salads and sandwiches):

Transform a simple lettuce salad or sandwich into a satisfying and delicious Earth-friendly meal.

  • Load up your sandwiches with vegetables and spreads (see The Complete Sandwich Chart for more specific suggestions).
  • Make a themed salad*:
    • Mexican: Black beans, corn, tortilla chips and tomatoes.
    • Greek: Olives, hummus, cucumber, red onion and vegan tofu feta cheese.
    • Rainbow: Get every color in there with red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow bell peppers, green cucumbers, and purple cabbage.
  • Create your own wildlife-friendly dressings with a little lemon, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add beans, nuts and seeds to any salad for protein and added satisfaction.*

5. Get Saucy:

Sauces can make a wrap, salad, stir-fry or plate of pasta so much more exciting. Some sauces don’t even require cooking (like peanut sauce) and are ideal for a cafeteria, while others can be cheaply purchased at the grocery store or prepared quickly using simple ingredients.

  • Peanut sauce*: Stir together peanut butter, hot water/broth, lemon juice, hot sauce and desired spices until creamy.
  • Creamy sauces without cheese, butter or cream: Replace these ingredients with cashew butter or ground white beans, or simply use plant-based butters and margarines (such as Earth Balance), which you’ll never guess aren’t butter.
  • Pesto: Buy at the store, or make your own using a blender or food processor. To make at home, pulse clean basil leaves, olive oil, nuts (toasted almonds, walnuts, pine nuts or cashews), salt, pepper, and dairy-free parmesan cheese in blender/food processor. While traditionally pesto is made with basil, you can substitute cilantro, parsley, kale, spinach and even carrot tops for more economical varieties. You can also add soy yogurt or Tofutti cream cheese for a meat-free, creamy pesto.
  • Enchilada sauce: Buy canned at the grocery store.
  • Curry: Mix coconut or soy milk with curry powder and use as a simmering sauce for vegetables and tofu. Add lime juice and cayenne for a tasty kick.
  • BBQ Sauce: Buy BBQ sauce at the grocery store and use as a marinade for tofu and vegetables.
  • Veggie Marinara: In the mood for spaghetti? Take your best marinara and add vegan sausage or sautéed mushrooms, garlic and onions instead of meat. If you want the same texture, add varieties of meat-free “meat” crumbles.

6. Be Prepared:

  • Take a container to the dining hall and load it with snacks for later, such as chopped veggies from the salad bar, hummus, an apple with peanut butter or a toasted bagel.*
  • If you’re cooking in your own kitchen, save your leftovers. One night’s work in the kitchen can give you multiple lunches and dinners.
  • Carry an energy bar or other meatless snack so you always have an Earth-friendly option available when you feel hungry.
  • Buy vegetables every time you shop. Brainstorm recipes and buy ingredients as motivation to follow through on your plans.
  • Stock your freezer with veggie burgers and frozen veggies. Purchase meat-free microwavable meals (such as Amy’s brand or Indian food from Trader Joe’s or Tasty Bite) for when you’re in a rush but still want a meatless meal.

7. Budget Wise:

  • Buy unprocessed foods in bulk (beans, grains, nuts) or canned veggies and beans.
  • Make your own smoothies at home with fresh or frozen produce.
  • If your supermarket sells slightly bruised or misshapen produce at a discount buy it — ugly doesn’t mean inedible. The uglier the food you buy, the more you’re reducing food waste, and that helps wildlife too.

8. Eat Out:

Most restaurants offer meatless choices or can substitute vegetables or bread for meat. Don’t be afraid to ask — every time you request a meatless option, you show there is demand for meat-free dishes. So eating meat-free at restaurants helps make Earth-friendly options more available for everyone.

Try these cuisines that are particularly vegetarian friendly:

Thai dishes like stir-fry noodles, pumpkin or coconut curries and more.

Indian dishes like chana masala, veggie samosas and curries can be made meat-free.

Sushi menus typically offer a wide array of creative and delicious vegetable sushi that skips the fish. Plus many Japanese restaurants have tempura vegetables and edamame.

Middle eastern dishes like tabbouleh, hummus, falafel and couscous are tasty, filling and meat-free.

Mexican food makes it easy to eat an Earth-friendly diet with vegan tacos and plant-based enchiladas and burritos, rice, veggies, guacamole and salsas.

Even fast-food restaurants offer meat-free options, such as sofritas at Chipotle, veggie burgers at Burger King, veggie sandwiches at Subway, bean burritos at Taco Bell and sesame noodles at Starbucks.

9. Waste Less:

As much as 40 percent of food produced in the United States is thrown away; the average college student generates 142 pounds of food waste every year. This is not only a waste of the food itself, but it’s also a waste of the land, water, fuel, packaging and other resources that went into producing the food in the first place. As wasted food decomposes, it releases methane, which directly contributes to climate change.

Meat production is one of the greatest sources of agricultural waste. More than half of the grain grown in the United States is fed to livestock, and nearly half of all the water used in this country goes toward raising animals for food. It takes significantly less land, water and fossil fuels to produce plant protein compared to animal protein. By reducing your meat consumption you are taking a major step in reducing your overall food waste. And you can be mindful of not wasting plant proteins as well:

  • Where possible, buy the “ugly” produce that is perfectly delicious but imperfect looking.
  • Only order or purchase what you will use.
  • Compost food scraps.

10. Meatless Motivation:

There’s a lot of temptation on campus, so you’ll need to find the motivation to stick with your new, Earth-friendly diet.